Image: Oren Rozen / Wikimedia Commons
Early this morning, thousands of people gathered all around New Zealand and Australia to remember the ANZACs. Those bloody brave young people who went off to fight a war that really had very little to do with them on the other side of the planet.
This morning, I stayed home. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that I’m most certainly not a morning person, the decision not to go to a dawn parade, even when the largest dawn parade in the country takes place 10 minutes walk from my front door, was a conscious one.
It’s a decision I know many will strongly disagree with. It’s a decision even I grapple with at times. I’m for remembrance. Strongly for, in fact. I believe that we must remember just how entirely horrendous global war was so that we never allow it to happen again. But ANZAC Day raises some uncomfortable issues for me.
Like the fact that it provides a rather convenient distraction from an awful chapter of Turkish/Ottoman history: the Armenian genocide. Sadly, most Kiwis have probably never heard of the campaign that slaughtered 1.25 million Armenians, Assyrians, and Hellenes that took place while the ANZACs were fighting at Gallipoli. In fact, New Zealand has still yet to formally acknowledge that the killing of the Armenians, Assyrians and Hellenes by their Ottoman rulers was actually genocide. Was there any mention of them at this morning’s services?
Or the fact that WWI was arguably one of the most pointless, futile and tragic wars of all time. What exactly were the WWI ANZACs fighting for? There is no easy sound bite answer, but when you boil it all down: power for their colonial rulers. The so-called Great War was all about the great powers trying to outmanoeuvre each other to become richer, to expand their empires, to secure naval routes; basically, to be the biggest or to try to take down those bigger than them.
The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand could simply never have sparked all-out international warfare if some very powerful people hadn’t been looking for an excuse to start a war. And so millions went to their deaths.
If that wasn’t bad enough, WWII hardly started in a vacuum. While it’s easier for us to justify WWII as a necessary battle to destroy one of the vilest despots of all time, it’s harder to acknowledge that the Allies played a significant part in its development. The Treaty of Versailles imposed severe punishments on Germany, including the acceptance of war guilt and the payment of reparations. The economic impact of the reparations led to the widespread impoverishment of the German people, creating the perfect climate for a new leader to emerge, promising to make Germany great again (horrific modern echo intended). Who was that bright new leader? Adolf Hitler.
Then there are the numerous wars that are still raging today. Taking place in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine – all in the region arbitrarily divided up between France and Britain in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement during WWI – Boko Haram in Africa, South Sudan, and Ukraine, to name but a few. And let’s not forget the arms dealers that profit colossally from the continuation of armed conflicts.
We may be a century on from WWI, but we’re still adept at killing each other.
So today, let us remember the ANZACs and their tragic sacrifice, but let us not forget the Armenians, Assyrians, and the Hellenes. Let us not forget the convoluted origins of the World Wars. And, most of all, let us not forget the thousands of people who are still dying in armed conflicts today.
In the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr., “wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
Lest we forget.